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Mancuso regains form

Wed., Feb. 24, 2010, midnight

Injuries had turned U.S. skier into afterthought until Vancouver Games

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Less than a month ago, Julia Mancuso finished 22nd in a World Cup downhill. The performance wasn’t all that different from most of her pre-Olympic races.

Now, after two medals in three events at the Vancouver Games, her season has turned from disappointment to delight.

“I’ve been looking forward to these days. It has been rough the past couple of years,” Mancuso said. “I’ve definitely put in extra effort coming into these games.”

With skiing overshadowed in the U.S., an American skier’s career can be defined by an Olympics. For Mancuso, this month was a chance to put a difficult, injury-plagued stretch behind her, and she came through at the best possible time. Ditto for Bode Miller, whose three medals at these games restored a legacy that appeared gone after his flameout at the last Olympics.

Mancuso competes today in the giant slalom, a race that also includes American standout Lindsey Vonn. NBC plans to air it in prime time along with another appearance by Apolo Anton Ohno in short track speedskating. NBC is also planning to carry the U.S. men’s hockey quarterfinal against Switzerland earlier in the day. That tournament will be reduced from eight teams to four today.

Mancuso won the giant slalom at the Turin Games in 2006, and she enjoyed some success in the world championships the following year. She appeared to be in decline coming into these games, though, after fighting nagging back issues.

Those struggles were all but forgotten when she won silver in the downhill last week, then took another silver in the super-combined. She’s been called a “big-game skier” by Vonn, who took the gold in that downhill.

“I’ve been struggling to do my best. … I wanted to come in and ski my best and I think I did that,” Mancuso said. “I came to put the past behind me and really rip it up.”

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